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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

12/21/2007

More to Hate About RFP's

In a prior post, I ranted on and on about why I stay away from RFP's. Then a client called and said that he had one for me, and last week in a meeting another potential client mentioned that they would be doing the same thing.

It reminded me of an RFP that I read the other day that had to be the heights of madness.

For the kind of work I do, hiring a consultant is a little like hiring a combination of company coach, doctor, teacher, lawyer and friend. The work is up close and personal, and trust plus personal chemistry are some of the main ingredients that are absolutely required.

No-one uses an RFP process to hire a coach, doctor, teacher, lawyer or friend.

Yet, some companies try to do so, and the RFP I read the other day was a recipe for disaster. While it satisfies the bureaucrats, it effectively allows the client to do what Jeff Thull calls "self-diagnosing".

It's a little like deciding what litigation you want to pursue, the argument you want to make, and then hiring a lawyer only to make the case that you have developed to the jury.

Or, it's like calling up a surgeon to tell him that you have determined from your research on the internet that your gall-bladder needs to be removed and you'd "like to know his best price" because you are just "shopping around".

Anyway, this RFP I found for fireman consulting services included the following "point system".


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Criteria for Evaluation of Proposals

Name of Company:_____________________

Experience, Qualifications and Expertise
  1. Number of years the Company has been in the fire department consultant business
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 5 years - acceptable 5 points
  • 5 to 10 years - advantageous 10 points
  • over 10 years - highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Highest degree earned by the lead member of the company or consulting team
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • bachelors degree - acceptable 5 points
  • masters degree - advantageous 10 points
  • PhD - highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Minimum fire department service of team members with prior fire department experience
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 10 years - acceptable 5 points
  • 10 to 15 years - advantageous 10 points
  • over 15 years - highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Number of fire department projects comparable to the scope and content of this RFP completed in the past 5 years
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 10 - acceptable 5 points
  • 10 to 20 - advantageous 10 points
  • over 20 - highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Number of projects completed for Towns in the State of Massachusetts in the past 3 years
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 5 - acceptable 5 points
  • 5 to 10 - advantageous 10 points
  • over 10 - highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Number of published articles on topics related to this RFP by consulting team members
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 5 - acceptable 5 points
  • 5 to 10 - advantageous 10 points
  • over 10 - highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Ability to complete and deliver report within time frame
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • >20% of projects delivered late - acceptable 5 points
  • >2% of projects delivered late - advantageous 10 points
  • all projects on time - highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Plan of Services demonstrates understanding of work to be completed
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • 2 or more items not addressed - acceptable 5 points
  • 1 item not addressed - advantageous 10 points
  • all items addressed - highly advantageous 15 points

Capabilities and Resources

  1. Studies currently under contract involving key personnel that would also be assigned to this study
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • 3 or more - acceptable 5 points
  • 1 or 2 - advantageous 10 points
  • None - highly advantageous 15 points

References

  1. Information on other organizations for which your firm has provided comparable consulting services
  • undisclosed - unacceptable 0 points
  • incorrect contacts listed - acceptable 5 points
  • correct contacts listed - advantageous 10 points
  • correct contacts listed and summary of work done listed - highly advantageous 15 points points:

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I can just imagine the heights of madness this must reach. The predictable result that I have witnessed is that the process gets bogged down, and the project never begins.

The mass of data that needs to be assimilated to make a critical decision does not allow itself to be reduced to simple math like this.

Instead, clients would do better to work with one consultant at a time. If they are able to get themselves above the invisible, undefinable bar, then they should be hired. If not, then the search should be expanded to the next consultant that can be found.

The person who is going to use the firm's services MUST be the one who participates in making the decision. RFP's that use simplistic checklists like the one above get bogged down when the people doing the choosing are different from the ones who will actually work closely with the consultant. Inevitably, the consultant must sell themselves twice -- once to the gatekeepers, and then again to the direct client who they will be working with, often resulting in an impasse when the gatekeepers and the direct client are unable to agree.

After gaining some experience, consultants learn to stay far, far away from this kind of nonsense, if it can be helped.

P.S. This is not to say that RFP's are bad for buying things like cement, furniture or car tyres. They are a dangerous waste of time, however, if they are applied to professional and personal services.

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